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Ceremonial structure found in the Zana valley, Chiclayo, Peru.

Rich Moche and 5,000-year-old Ceremonial Structures Unearthed in Peru

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A research team working on Las Ánimas Hill in the lush dry forest of La Otra Banda, in the district of Zaña, northern Peru have unearthed two ceremonial structures dating to the Moche culture (600-700 AD) and the Initial Period (over 3,500 BC). The findings provide valuable insights into the symbolic, religious, and ideological worldviews of ancient inhabitants. 

The discoveries made by the Úcupe – Zaña Valley Cultural Landscapes Archaeological Project were presented by Dr. Luis Armando Muro Ynoñán, the project director, to local authorities and residents, announced the Chiclayo News Agency. 

The project, funded by the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and the University of California Los Angeles, received authorization from the General Directorate of Archaeological Heritage of the Ministry of Culture. The Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Lambayeque oversaw the project's initial stage. 

 A likely Moche Period stepped structure was found.

A likely Moche Period stepped structure was found. (Peru Ministry of Culture) 

Unveiling a Moche Worship Center 

In the first excavation area, presumed to date back to the Moche period, archaeologist Lic. Hoover Rojas Cabanillas revealed the base of a stepped structure with four levels. This possible worship center was buried under wind-blown sand over many years. The structure's cross-shaped silhouette is reminiscent of the floor plan of a Moche huaca in Trujillo, used for magical-religious rituals. The huaca's strategic location offers panoramic views of the Zañero valley, indicating its significance in ancient times. 

A notable find in this sector was the skeleton of a child, aged between 4 and 10, buried in a fetal position in a cell at the base of the huaca. The skeleton's positioning and location suggest it might be a human offering or a victim of disease. However, these are preliminary hypotheses, pending further scientific analyses to determine the truth about the remains. 

Burial of a young individual buried at the base of the huaca.  

Burial of a young individual buried at the base of the huaca. (Peru Ministry of Culture) 

Insights into the Initial Formative Period 

Dr. Muro Ynoñán led the excavation of the second sector, uncovering complex architectural elements over 5,000 years old. The team found floors and walls made of clay adobe, plastered and decorated. A central structure with a staircase leading to a polished stage area was discovered, hinting at the site's use for important ceremonies. The bottom of the stage area featured two slabs, one intact and the other damaged by grave robbers. 


This sector also revealed a unique "theater" structure from the Initial Formative period, used for ritual ceremonies. The slabs were adorned with anthropomorphic high-relief friezes depicting a creature with a human body, bird head, and reptilian extremities, blending various animal attributes. These intricate designs suggest a rich mythological and symbolic culture. 

Additionally, a perimeter wall in the upper area displayed a finely plastered panel painted blue with a red circle and a white geometric figure. This artistic expression, though not fully understood, represents the advanced civilization that once inhabited the region. 

Painted plastered panel.  

Painted plastered panel. (Peru Ministry of Culture) 

Significance of the Discoveries 

These findings are crucial for understanding the early cultural developments in the Zaña Valley. The Moche worship center provides insights into the religious practices and social organization of the time, while the Initial Formative period structures highlight the region's long history of ceremonial and ritual activities. The discoveries also underscore the importance of continued archaeological research to unravel the mysteries of ancient civilizations. 

The combination of Moche and Initial Period elements in the same area offers a rare opportunity to study the evolution of cultural practices over millennia. The artifacts and structures unearthed will contribute significantly to the knowledge of pre-Columbian history in Peru and the broader understanding of early human societies in the Americas. 

Top image: Ceremonial structure found in the Zana valley, Chiclayo, Peru. Source: Peru Ministry of Culture 

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Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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